1998, R, 113 min. Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Winona Ryder, Joe Mantegna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen, Melanie Griffith, Bebe Neuwirth, Gretchen Mol, Hank Azaria, Michael Lerner.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 20, 1998

Woody Allen skewers the cult of personality in Celebrity with the pointedness of a cocktail fork. Purportedly a seriocomic contemplation on a civilization that's lost its way, the movie jabs at America's fascination with its false idols without ever hitting its target. It's little more than a series of tableaux in which supermodels, film stars, best-selling authors, television personalities, and other “who's who” are offered up as golden calves worshipped at the altar of popular culture, as objects to be disdained, ridiculed, and clichéd in the guise of a higher calling. So what's Woody Allen? Chopped liver? There's no question that Allen has created a body of work that includes some of the most literate, personal, and affecting films about the foibles of the human heart: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives. But who is he to divorce himself so entirely from the cultural philistinism that he finds so subversive? There's no doubt that Allen positions himself as such because he's allowed Branagh, who plays a frustrated writer experiencing an existential mid-life crisis, to annoyingly impersonate him in Celebrity. Portrayed -- at least in theory -- as a lost soul, Branagh's character struggles with the superficiality of what passes today as artistic endeavor and aspires to achieve something more meaningful: He's the writer of magazine fluff pieces and screenplays about armored-car heists who abandons those trivial pursuits for the more honorable profession of novelist. He's also a jerk when it comes to his relationships with women, engaging in that honored pastime in the Allen oeuvre of always meeting someone else at the most inopportune time. By the film's end, Allen's romanticized doppleganger is depicted as a floundering man in need of a lifesaver, but it's impossible to work up any empathy, or even an objectified pity, for him. (Maybe this is a movie that only Allen's shrinks could love.) While Celebrity has some funny moments, they don't compensate for its disconnected structure and misguided aim. In fact, the entire movie has the feel of a work in search of a context. The black-and-white cinematography, the metropolitan setting, and the subject matter bring to mind the wondrous La Dolce Vita, but the comparison is a pale one indeed. Where Fellini reveled in the Roman jet-set society that he critiqued, Allen stands at a distance. That's Allen's problem with Celebrity -- he's afraid to embrace it, so that he might understand it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Celebrity
New in Print
Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame
How celebrity worship has metastasized into the defining American obsession

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 21, 2012

More Woody Allen Films
Wonder Wheel
Woody Allen's ode to Coney Island

Steve Davis, Dec. 8, 2017

Café Society
A lesser Woody Allen film, but not without its pleasures

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 29, 2016

More by Steve Davis
Book Club: The Next Chapter
Tedious sequel recycles that Golden Girls energy again

May 12, 2023

Fascinating life story of the Black knight is foiled by its own polemic

April 21, 2023


Celebrity, Woody Allen, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Winona Ryder, Joe Mantegna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen, Melanie Griffith, Bebe Neuwirth, Gretchen Mol, Hank Azaria, Michael Lerner

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle